National Parks Have That Not-So-Fresh Feeling, Study Finds

Mercury Rising at National Parks—Along with Pesticides, DDT, and Industrial Chemicals
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Mercury Rising at National Parks—Along with Pesticides, DDT, and Industrial Chemicals

Turns out our national parks aren’t quite the pristine escape from modern life we thought they were. According to a six-year federal study released Tuesday, contaminants like mercury, PCBs, and insecticides (70 types in all) were detected in 20 national parks ranging from Alaska to Texas—much of that pollution coming from power plants in Europe and Asia and from pesticide use in nearby agricultural areas.

The $6 million report found the highest levels of pollution at Rocky Mountain, Glacier, and Sequoia/Kings Canyon national parks, though troubling toxin counts were also detected at Mount Rainier, Olympic, Gates of the Arctic, and Denali.

Park wildlife may already be affected; some male fish caught at Rocky Mountain and Glacier had ovary tissue in their testes, a trait linked to chemical pollution. "Contaminants are everywhere,” study co-author Michael Kent told the Associated Press. “You can't get more remote than these northern parts of Alaska and the high Rockies.” —Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan